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Monday, April 19, 2010

Reinventing Beale Street

I will be interested to see what becomes of the east end of Memphis' Beale Street.

That section of the district has struggled for years. It seemed the additions of Hard Rock Cafe and Pat O'Brien's on that end would really liven things up. I'm not sure how Hard Rock is doing but unfortunately Pat O's closed down a year or two ago.

Now that end will get some new businesses: Red Rooster (340 Beale), Lil' Anthony's Cafe (341 Beale) and Ground Zero Blues Club (310 Beale). Only Lil' Anthony's Cafe is new; Red Rooster and Ground Zero previously were located on Lt. George W. Lee Avenue in a hidden-away spot across from Gibson Guitar.

Here's hoping the bars find new life on Beale. And here's hoping that end of Beale really starts jumping now. 

There will be a celebration on Thursday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. with $5 wristbands that will provide admission to all Beale Street clubs. 

There also will be tours of the historic Daisy Theater.

A couple of other additions to the street could help lure more daytime visitors. There has been some sprucing up taking place at the W.C. Handy House and the Ernest Withers Museum Collection & Gallery will open at 333 Beale.

Withers was a Memphis photographer who died a few years ago. His subjects ranged from Elvis to the civil rights movement.

The first phase of the ultimately 7,000-square-foot museum will encompass 3,000 square feet and include a set of Withers images curated and installed by Tony Decaneas of Panopticon Gallery of Boston. There also will be 40 pieces of art hanging in the space.

An opening is planned for the end of May.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Baby's First Travels

In honor of one of our readers giving birth to twins today, I thought I'd share in pictures a few of our son's first travel moments.

Above is our first trip to the beach. This was our first day in Gulf Shores, Ala., for our then 10-month-old.

This is his first tourist attraction, a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home in Springfield, Ill. This came over a Thanksgiving visit when he was 13 months old. Shockingly, he was completely still and quiet as I held him during the hour-long walking tour of the house. There is no way this child could do that now. I'm thankful now that he was a little late to the idea of walking. Otherwise, this tour would not have happened.

This wasn't his first trip to a baseball game (that came when he was 7 months old). But this was his first time to attend a baseball game as a mobile toddler, which meant I did not watch a second of baseball. This is AutoZone Park in Memphis when he was 20 months old. I'm still surprised he stopped long enough to pose for this photo.

This is more a monumental occasion for me, a sports fan. It's the first time I attended a sporting event and did not watch a second of the action.

His first trip to a state park. This was July Fourth weekend at Petit Jean State Park in Central Arkansas. We were on a trail to see a cave with Native American drawings on the wall. He was impossible to keep at a walking pace. This came at about 21 months.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Photo Friday: Streets of Siena

I have a ton of pictures from our trip to Siena, Italy, and I hope to over time post some of the best here. This photo shows, like many instances throughout the beautiful villages of Tuscany, a street filled with Vespas and beautiful buildings.

We were walking along a random street when my wife just happened to look off to the left from this bridge and saw this peaceful street.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame travel regret

I've been thinking a lot today about one of my biggest travel regrets. It came five years ago while on a baseball trip to Cleveland and Pittsburgh.

As a fan of all things music I've wanted to tour the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland since I knew it existed. But it wasn't meant to be on this trip, as I was the only one of six people on this trip who wanted to tour the hall.

I don't have many regrets in life but I certainly regret not touring the hall of fame. That's one of the advantages to solo travel: It's on your terms; no one to please but yourself.

Will I ever make it back to Cleveland? Who knows, but if I do I certainly will attend the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. I guess the lesson is if you're in a city and you see something you want to tour or experience, do it then. You never know when you might be back.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Off the beaten path in West Tennessee

From Elvis and country music to Jack Daniels whiskey and the Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee is full of major attractions. But here's a list of five off-the-beaten path spots, specifically in West Tennessee, worth considering.

The Bird Dog Foundation Inc.

The Bird Dog Foundation Inc. in Grand Junction, about an hour east of Memphis, is home to the National Bird Dog Museum, National Retriever Museum and the Field Trial Hall of Fame. Visitors to the center can learn about more than 40 breeds of bird dogs, the area’s annual Field Trial’s champions and enjoy exhibits on some of the sport’s most famous dogs.

The center is open every day but Monday. There is no admission charge but donations are accepted.

Buford Pusser Home and Museum

McNairy County Sheriff Buford Pusser’s exploits in cleaning up crime with his “big stick” have been lifted to legendary heights, thanks to a series of “Walking Tall” movies.

The museum in Adamsville, about an hour south of Jackson, is open daily. Admission is $5 for adults and $2 for students. A tour includes a short video and guided tour of the museum.

Alex Haley House Museum

Were you one of the millions of TV viewers in 1977 who made “Roots” the most watched event in TV history? The miniseries was an adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by the same name, written by Alex Haley. You can learn about Haley and his books at the Alex Haley House Museum.

The house, about an hour north of Memphis, was home to Haley’s grandparents, where he lived for eight years. The property is also Haley’s final resting place.

The museum is open daily except Mondays. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for students and children.

National Ornamental Museum

Memphis is home to the nation’s only center devoted to the preservation of metalwork. The museum, overlooking the Mississippi River, displays exhibits and a working blacksmith on the grounds.

The museum is open daily except Mondays. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and $3 for students and children ages 5 and up.

Ghost River Brewing

Memphis’ lone brewery is also a charitable organization that donates a percentage of all sales to the Wolf River Conservancy, a group dedicated to protecting the river that flows through southern Tennessee and the Memphis area’s famous drinking water.

Learn about the brewing techniques and taste a few beers at this relatively new operation at 827 S. Main St. Free tours are offered every Saturday at 1 p.m. Reservations are required.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Memphis Zoo revises attendance policy

The Memphis Zoo today announced revised admission policies that are aimed at the Zoo's ever growing attendance.

"Our top priority is the safety of our guests, Zoo staff and animals," said Dr. Chuck Brady, Zoo president and CEO.  "We are committed to providing Zoo visitors with an educational, fun and safe experience."

The Zoo will continue to allow free general admission on Tuesday afternoons after 2 p.m., commonly known as Free Tuesday. Many revisions to the Zoo's policy affect the Free Tuesday program. Those changes include discontinuing the Free Tuesday program during the month of March and managing the admittance of minors into the Zoo. 

Effective April 6, 2010, people planning to visit the Zoo during Free Tuesday hours will be required to adhere to the following policies:

*The Memphis Zoo allows free general admission to Tennessee residents on Tuesday afternoons from 2 p.m. to close.

*Persons ages 16 and under must be accompanied by an adult age 21 or older.

*Adults age 21 and older may accompany up to five children ages 16 and under.

*Photo ID with proof of age and TN residency are required for free admittance.  Current college or military photo ID will be accepted.

*Free Tuesdays will not be held during the month of March.

"The Zoo is committed to the Free Tuesday program as a way to provide access to all segments of our community," said Dr. Brady. "This program and its participants will benefit from the new guidelines put in place. A visit during Free Tuesday should be just as enriching and enjoyable as a visit on any other day."

A new policy in effect every day is an overall cap on the number of visitors inside the Zoo. Revised general admission policies will apply every day of Zoo operation:


*The Zoo's capacity is 10,000 people inside the park at any one time. Once capacity is reached, admission to the Zoo will not be permitted.

*The Memphis Zoo reserves the right to refuse or permit admission at its discretion.

Previewing Memphis in April

One would think that Memphis’ favorite month is May, what with a whole month-long festival and all. But Memphis in April can hold its own.

From the tulips in bloom at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens to baseball at AutoZone Park, April is a great time for locals and visitors alike to get out and experience what Memphis has to offer.

The great thing about April in Memphis is we haven’t yet reached the busyness of the summer travel season and we’re still weeks away from May, when Memphis shines with an abundance of events. Sure, the weather still has potential to turn cool in the evenings and drop some rain showers from time to time, but spring in Memphis is here and that means more times than not, the weather is beautiful.

And what better way to celebrate the season than a trip to AutoZone Park where you can usher in the 2010 baseball season by cheering on the 2009 Pacific Coast League champion Memphis Redbirds. The Red Carpet Home Opener will be April 16 and will be the first fireworks night of the season.

Baseball and beer tend to go together and debuting at AutoZone Park this year is Memphis’ own Ghost River Brewing with a beer made just for the park, Home Run Red.

And speaking of beer, the Memphis Brewfest will be held April 24 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at AutoZone Park. It’s an opportunity to sample a number of beers from around the world.

On the art front, if you haven’t had the chance to make it to the Dixon for its exhibition titled “Monet to Matisse” it’s not too late, although you better hurry. The show will end on April 4. The exhibition features more than 40 paintings and works on paper by the most influential artists of the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist movements from the Dixon’s permanent collection of late 19th and early 20th century art.

Image courtesy of Dixon Gallery & Gardens (until I can get over there and snap my own)

But if you’re too late for the art, it’s a perfect time for the tulips. Beginning in mid-March and expected to be in bloom until at least the middle of April, the Dixon has an amazing display of some 20,000 tulips. For this beautiful exhibition, Dixon floriculturist Greg Francis and greenhouse manager Manjula Carter designed the planting with 35 varieties of hybrid tulips and 16 species tulips, along with hundreds of camassia and allium bulbs. All 14 types of tulips are represented.

But if you’re hunkering for some art, the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art exhibition “Venice in the Age of Canaletto” is on display through May 9. The exhibition is inspired by Giovanni Antonio Canaletto’s painting The Grand Canal from Campo di San Viola. The exhibition focuses on a period – spanning the 18th century – that saw Venice transformed into a destination for wealthy European tourists. The exhibition features paintings, prints, furniture and textiles.

And not to be outdone by Memphis in May, this month will feature the annual Africa in April Cultural Awareness Festival April 15-18 in Robert F. Church Park along Beale Street. This year’s event will honor the Republic of Nigeria and will feature a diverse cultural marketplace, food and entertainment.

And finally, not to forget the opportunity to sit outside and enjoy the great weather with good friends, April in Memphis means prime patio season and the Bluff City has plenty of offerings, particularly in Midtown and Downtown. Whether you want to simply take a glass of wine from the hotel bar at The River Inn of Harbor Town up to the rooftop to enjoy a spectacular sunset or enjoy a beverage along Beale Street, there are a multitude of offerings.

Some favorites include Celtic Crossing (903 S. Cooper St.), which is aided by a great Monday pint night special of $2.50 per beer. Other standouts include Boscos Squared (2120 Madison Ave.), Young Avenue Deli (2119 Young Ave.), Calhoun’s Sports Bar (115 E. GE Patterson Ave.) and, if you can get a spot by the windows, the Flying Saucer (130 Peabody Place).

Here’s to a fabulous April in Memphis.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Stevie Ray Vaughn, cold beer and a Memphis Negative Nancy

The Syracuse-Butler Sweet 16 tournament game has just started and I have just enough time for a pint. It's a Thursday, just after 6, and the Huey's in East Memphis is filling up. But there are a couple spots open at the bar.

Two guys sit at the corner playing dominoes; a man in slacks and Oxford shirt sips a Coors Light bottle next to me. Two seats down, a woman in her 50s eats dinner while sipping scotch (burger, greasy fries and scotch?).

I am perched in the middle of the bar where I can watch a few minutes of the game before I have to head out to an event. There's a low buzz from the growing dining crowd and the sweet, relaxing guitar of Stevie Ray Vaughn. Those sounds, along with a pint of Ghost River Golden, are easing my tension.

The bartender is efficient and friendly. Well, he's friendly to his customers, but no so much to his physical position in life.

As I'm enjoying my surroundings Trey, our friendly bartender, suddenly irks me. A female University of Memphis grad student, formerly of Syracuse, N.Y., sits down at the bar.

Instead of making conversation with her as to what she's doing in Memphis, he instead quizzes her as to "Why the hell are you in Memphis?" It's good-natured banter, but it still irritates me just the same. I guess it's just today's Memphis Negative Nancy.

But another Stevie Ray Vaughn song just came on and the beer is still cold.

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